United reminds airport workers to monitor "hidden city" tickets

 United has reminded airport employees to watch out for "hidden city" tickets. Photo: United Airlines. 

United has reminded airport employees to watch out for "hidden city" tickets. Photo: United Airlines. 

Are you thinking about breaking a key United Airlines fare rule to save a few bucks? You might want to rethink your plans.

United reminded airport workers last month to watch for "hidden city" tickets, which the airline says violate its contract of carriage. "When fraud is suspected, the Customer Service Representatives should send an email to Corporate Security for follow up," the airline said. 

What are "hidden city" tickets?

Here's an example. Let's say you want to fly one-way from Newark to Cleveland next week. As you can see below, nonstop fares are frighteningly expensive.  

But you can fly from Newark to Chicago with a stop in Cleveland for about $200 less. Theoretically, you could buy this fare and simply leave the airport in Cleveland. But most road warriors know this a bad idea, because airlines frown on it, big time. 

Here's how United describes "hidden city" tickets in the message to airport workers.

Some customers purchase tickets involving connections to a destination that offers a special discounted fare without the intention of ever traveling as ticketed. A “hidden city” ticket is the use of a ticket fared from a point either before the customer’s actual origin or to a more distant destination point than the intended destination in order to pay a lower fare.

United's contract-of-carriage permits it to delete miles your frequent flier account, revoke your frequent flier status and even terminate you from the program. It can also take these actions, according to the note to airport workers:

  • Cancel your remaining itinerary
  • Deny boarding
  • Collect addition fare with applicable change fees
  • Require you to buy a new ticket. 

"Hidden City" ticketing is perhaps a bigger deal now because a website called Skiplagged is helping passengers create these itineraries. You may be familiar with the site because United sued it in November 2014. The suit was dismissed in May 2015 after a federal judge ruled that Illinois was not the proper venue for the case.  United does have the right to re-file but as far as I can tell, it has not done so. 

For now, Skiplagged still says on its website that it will help you find "hidden city" itineraries.

Would you ever buy one? Or do you think the potential penalities are too great?

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